Hand-built in Neckarsulm, Germany, the Audi R8 is the marque's flagship sports car, named after the race cars that dominated endurance racing from 2000-2005. After driving the Audi R8 Spyder and Audi R8 coupe, we can say they drive as good as they look.
The R8 offers a high-revving 430-hp V8 or a V10 with 525 or 560 hp. The engine is mounted amidships and can be seen on display beneath a clear engine cover on the coupe or nestled beneath the Spyder's stowed soft top. The R8 comes with quattro all-wheel drive, massive multi-piston brakes, aluminum suspension components, and a nearly flat floor to help keep it on the ground at speed.
Inside is a finished cabin with controls very much like any Audi. The R8 is stylish but not gaudy, luxurious without forsaking efficiency, roomy enough to avoid feet squeezed off to one side or your skull stuck in the headliner. Seats are contoured to fit a variety of sizes without reshaping them, and you can hold a conversation without an intercom. As one indicator of how far Audi's gone to make the R8 useable as a daily driver, consider the Bluetooth microphones in the driver's seatbelt on the Spyder.
Audi launched the R8 Coupe as a 2008 model and the R8 Spyder was added for 2011. For 2012, an Audi R8 GT Spyder is available, a limited-edition of 333 cars with only 50 destined for the U.S. The R8 GT is designed for track-day events, much like the Porsche GT3 and Ferrari Challenge cars. Lightened by 220 pounds, the R8 GT can accelerate from 0-62 mph in 3.6 seconds and can top 198 mph, according to Audi. Otherwise, there are no significant changes for 2012.
A V8-powered R8 coupe is the lightest of the batch and runs from $114,000. There are plenty of options but only the ceramic brakes used on a track or desert-storming would improve the drive. At the other extreme, a 10-cylinder Spyder fully loaded could cost nearly twice that V8 coupe.
Audi was able to exploit some engineering development from sister-company Lamborghini in the form of the Gallardo V10 engine, transmissions and chassis, but any notion of the two being the same car wearing different badges should be banished. If the Lamborghini is Lucifer in outlandish Milan-runway garb, the R8 has been to finishing school and is donning a classic Navy blazer. The Gallardo drives with more passion, but the R8 costs a lot less.
Exotics and high-performance sports cars vary greatly in style and concept compared to more plebian cars so there is no precise class in which the Audi R8 competes. Cars that might interest potential R8 buyers include the Aston Martin DB9 and Vantage, Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo, Mercedes-Benz SL AMG, Porsche 911, Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 and Z06, and Nissan GT-R.
The 2012 Audi R8 is offered in coupe and convertible form, with V8 or V10 power. All R8s are all-wheel drive. Each is slapped with a federal gas-guzzler tax of $1,700-$3,000. (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Audi R8 4.2 quattro coupe ($114,200) comes with a 430-hp V8 and 6-speed manual gearbox. Standard features include leather and Alcantara upholstery, 10-way power heated sport seats, climate control, tilt-telescoping flat-bottom multifunction steering wheel, AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sirius stereo, HomeLink, Bluetooth, cruise control, trip computer, bi-Xenon headlamps, magnetorheological shocks, and 19-inch alloy wheels. A 6-speed automated manual R tronic transmission ($9,100) is optional.
Audi R8 4.2 quattro Spyder ($127,700) is equipped much like the coupe, with the addition of a power folding hardtop with power rear window, leather treated to be cooler, and Bluetooth microphones in the driver's seatbelt.
Options include Nappa leather ($2,000); carbon ceramic brakes ($9,900); extended leather package ($5,500); convenience package ($2,100) with rearview camera, hill-hold assist, auto-dimming heated folding outside mirrors; MMI navigation ($2,200); alternate side blade colors and finishes; complete LED front lighting ($3,500); alternate wheel styles/finishes ($500); metallic paint ($650); 465-watt 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system ($1,800); Alcantara headliner ($1,300); piano black cabin trim ($1,640); carbon fiber trim; illuminated door sills ($875); metallic paints ($650).
Audi R8 5.2 quattro Coupe ($149,000) comes with the 525-hp V10 engine, Nappa leather, LED headlights, Bang & Olufsen sound, navigation and rearview camera. Audi R8 5.2 quattro Spyder ($162,700) has everything from 4.2 Spyder and 5.2 coupe, plus power-folding, heated, auto-dimming rearview mirrors. Options for the 5.2 versions include the enhanced leather package ($3,500), R tronic gearbox and the cosmetic upgrades of the V8: carbon fiber, piano black, alternate colors/finishes, headliner and door sills.
R8 5.2 GT quattro coupe ($196,800) comes with a 560-hp V10 engine and R tronic; sport suspension; GT-specific steering wheel, rear lights, seats and numbered aluminum shift knob; and carbon-fiber front splitter, fixed rear spoiler, rear bumper/diffuser, and outside mirror housings. R8 5.2 GT quattro Spyder ($210,000) gets GT coupe upgrades and Spyder-specific equipment. Just 333 are scheduled to be built, 50 allotted to the U.S market. Options for the R8 GT include navigation/iPod interface, carbon ceramic brakes, Bang & Olufsen sound syste, forged alloy wheels, carbon-fiber door and console trim, and leather windshield frame.
Safety features that come standard include frontal airbags, head/chest side-impact airbags, knee airbags, pop-up rollbars on Spyder, electronic stability control, and all-wheel drive. The optional rearview camera enhances safety by increasing the chances of the driver spotting a child or other hazard behind the car when backing up, and we strongly recommend it.